Friday, November 23, 2012

Quanser Driving Simulator Demo Draws Enthusiastic Response at WEEF 2012

This past month, I had the pleasure of attending the World Engineering Education Forum (WEEF) in Buenos Aires. The conference is meant to bring together stakeholders from around the world in an effort to address the major challenges that are faced in engineering education through global strategies and partnerships.

As with many of the conferences that are centred on engineering education, the thought is that if you can get the right people together into a room to share their ideas and experiences, the engineering education community can begin to work together to solve both individual and shared problems.

I have been to several conferences over the past few months and though it sometimes seems like my contribution as a booth engineer is somewhat limited in the context of global engineering education strategy, there are advantages.

Above: the poster announcing the Quanser Driving Simulator Demonstration at WEEF 2012. The Driving Simulator is a recent example of the controls education advances Quanser is developing to improve the educational experience engineering students have at university.   

While traditional attendees have opportunities to meet new people and share mutual interests, I would suggest that the majority of interactions are with established long-standing colleges. I would conservatively venture that though I was tied to a booth for the majority of the conference, over a three day period I probably interacted with 90% of the attendees. Though I would like to believe that this was largely due to my stunning good looks and charm, it was honestly probably due to the exciting driving simulator demo that I was in front of.

Despite the relatively small size of the WEEF conference, I think we had more students and professors drive the simulator on the first two days of the conference than the previous two conferences combined. Though I don’t have the most comprehensive Spanish vocabulary (freno, acelerador, rápido!, etc.), I believe that the sheer number of people who stopped by our booth offered an invaluable opportunity for Hans Fernandez and me to share information about the innovative engineering education products and approaches that Quanser offers.

Over one hundred eager engineering students from South America and around the world took the Quanser Driving Simulator for a test drive and enjoyed an exciting, hands-on educational experience. 

The WEEF conference in particular was a fantastic opportunity for us to put the driving simulator experience into the hands of over a hundred engineering students from all over South America and the world. Their reaction to the platform was very exciting, with several students returning day after day to try to improve their times or share the system with their friends.

It’s always reassuring when a professor really latches onto the driving simulator concept, immediately grasping the benefits of the platform. More than anything, however, it was the students’ interest in the guts of the system and the interaction between the controllers, simulation, and hardware that proved to me that we are on the right track.

As a curriculum engineer, my day-to-day job is to try and improve the educational experience that students have while at university. At the end of the day, all of the strategies and partnerships that come from these conferences are in the hands of the students. By interacting with students directly and meeting organizations like Student Platform for Engineering Education Development (SPEED), I firmly believe that we have a chance to fundamentally improve the educational experience for engineering students from the bottom up.
Peter Martin

Peter Martin is a Curriculum Developer at Quanser.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gangnam... Quanser Style

Last week as part of a broader Asian tour, I visited Korea. This country has experienced more recent economic transformations that many have called miraculous. Brands such as Samsung and Hyundai now compare well against more seasoned names as Sony and Toyota. The average income is approaching those of the so-called “developed” nations. It has hosted the Olympics and co-hosted the World Cup. And it has begun to seriously influence global pop culture in the form of TV dramas and music. Indeed, upon my return, the most frequent questions that I’ve gotten are “How was Gangnam? Did you do the dance?”. Gangnam was fine. I did not do the dance. And in fact, I couldn’t even find a Psy CD for my daughter. But I did get a better idea of some seemingly remarkable trends in the national psyche, especially in the area of education.

안녕하세요. 저는 1963 년에 한군에서 태어났습니다. 하지만 1971 년에 캐나다로 이민갔습니다. 한국말 잘못함니다. 미안합니다.

The above phrase exactly translates to “Hello. I was born in Korea in 1963. But in 1971, I emigrated to Canada. I cannot speak Korean well. I am sorry.”  This is the phrase that I start pretty much every conversation in Korea. Whether it’s a renowned professor, a taxi driver, or the lady selling street food, it has always been my primary defense to the direct probing question (Koreans can be very direct and probing … especially those ladies selling street food), or the “to self” question implied by puzzled looks on people’s faces, “Why does this old guy look Korean but speak like a tourist with a bad phrase book?”

A floral display in Seoul, Korea highlights a more traditional Gangnam Style.

A Visit To TechPlus Forum 2012
On November 7-8, 2012, in the Gangnam area, Korea celebrated its newly discovered tech entrepreneurial spirit with Tech Plus Forum 2012. A very slick and bouncy production consisting of successful Korean tech entrepreneurs and invited international guests sharing their experiences in commercializing innovation. The style of the talks was very Ted Talk and the program was an interesting mix of “how I made a bazillion dollars” stories and artists promoting the virtues of raw creativity. The audience was largely young people: students from high schools and universities. The ultimate goal was to get these kids to begin dreaming about transforming their smarts to economic and cultural success and the organizers did not hold back.

Several of the speakers were expat Koreans like myself, including Michael Yang of (a pioneering web site for online price comparisons), and professor and roboticist Daniel Lee of the University of Pennsylvania. Both presented very inspiring and entertaining accounts of their success. And they both started their presentations with “Hello. I was born in Korea in _________. But in _________, I emigrated to America. I cannot speak Korean well. I am sorry.” Instantly I realized that I was no longer alone in my illiterate though over-educated universe. If there were two others who butcher our mother tongue so proficiently at a single conference, there must be more of us. It also was made clear to me just how far reaching and deep the Korean economic, cultural and intellectual diaspora could be in the modern world.

K-Pop star Eun-Mi Lee closes TechPlus Forum 2012.
People often compare Korean economic development with that of Japan separated by about a generation’s worth of time. Indeed, today, “Made in Korea” is no longer something you want to hide from your friends. Samsung and Hyundai produce products of global Tier One quality and on par with Sony and Toyota. But the most intriguing observation for me at TechPlus Forum was that choice that the country is making to not follow the Japan path of growing through multinationalization but with a largely unchanged framework of quality, efficiency, and technical excellence. Everyone is now realizing that Japan’s past success is also a major part of its current challenge and it seems like Korea is not interested in blindly following that model. In fact TechPlus Forum was the exact opposite. It was about starting small, dreaming big, and taking risks. 

You have to trust me when I say that these three phrases are as un-Korean as can be. In fact, the modern Japan story is much closer to the natural Korean value set than the Silicon Valley story. But here was the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy (the fact that they have such a ministry is also telling), funding a major feel-good conference, complete with lights, contemporary K-pop stars (except Psy … sigh), and free lunch for everyone, to encourage young people to think like people that their parents always warned them about! This is big time change.

Sitting beside me was my friend Dr. Won-Jong Joo of Seoul National University of Science and Technology. He introduced me over a year ago to the well-funded national initiative to reinvigorate and modernize engineering education in Korea. This established a national network of universities collaborating to essentially leap frog over Japan and indeed most other developed regions with a more progressive and effective engineering education process. I had originally perceived that initiative as an admirable one but still saddled with the vestiges of traditional scholarship. As we were grooving to songstress Eun-Mi Lee’s soulful (Seoulful? ha ha) ballads at the end of the conference, it did seem like the changes were more than an academic exercise. Best wishes Korea (I really wish I knew how to say that in Korean).

 For more information on TechPlus Forum 2012, see You can also see presentation samples on their YouTube channel.  Most presentations were in Korean (there was a translation service) but a few are in English. Most of the videos on this channel were from Day 1 of the conference. I attended Day 2.

 - Tom Lee
As Chief Education Officer at Quanser, Tom Lee is focused on spearheading the development of Quanser's global academic community. He is closely involved with Quanser's technology and solution development process and the company's partner and alliance programs. He holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and an MASc and BASc in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quanser Flexibility Deliver High Functionality

Dr. Tom Lee highlights the teaching and research flexibility of Quanser's Rotary line of experiments. The Rotary Servo Control Lab accepts a wide array of add-on modules, including the inverted pendulum module seen here.

A high degree of flexibility is one of the benefits that controls professors can expect when putting together a lab based on Quanser solutions. 
The reason: Quanser labs are composed of a small number of versatile, high quality, modular components and peripherals—elements you can easily mix and match to teach a wide range of control concepts and courses, from the most fundamental to the most advanced. You can also use these same modular elements to conduct advanced research.
Above are some of the Quanser add-on modules from the Rotary lineup.  This high degree of flexibility and functionality continues in our Linear, Mechatronic, Specialty, Custom and Unmanned System devices.

Watch as Tom Lee, Quanser’s Chief Education Officer, discusses Quanser’s flexibility from a unique location: inside the National Instruments (NI) Campus Tour vehicle that is currently touring North American campuses and demonstrating the functionality of some of Quanser’s and NI’s joint offerings.


What Makes Our Linear Experiments a Popular Choice For So Many Professors?

Over the years Quanser’s linear motion experiments, modules and workstations have been the first choice for many professors teaching controls. Their popularity is due to a number of reasons. One key factor is the number of linear experiments available. Professors can choose from over 14 experiments to help them teach fundamental control concepts including modeling, position and speed control. 

A basic control concept is being learned here with the Quanser Linear Flexible Joint Experiment. Courseware included with this workstation covers such fundamentals as modeling and position control. Also shown is the NI CompactRIO with Quanser Q1-cRIO module and the Quanser VoltPAQ-X1. Quanser linear experiments can be flexibly configured to run with MATLAB/Simulink or with LabVIEW and NI CompactRIO.

The wide choice of experiments is possible in part because all of the products in the linear motion family are modular in design and become simple add-ons to our IP02 linear position base unit.

Like our other product lines, our linear controls family is flexible and adaptable. It utilizes a “building block” approach to learning and courseware. Students are more likely to grasp an array of concepts when they build on each other progressively. The available courseware also saves massive amounts of teaching prep time, a tremendous benefit for professors who have to balance their roles as teachers and researchers.

These experiments are integrated with National Instruments components and NI LabVIEW™ control design software. As a result, linear experiments can be configured to run with LabVIEW™ and the NI CompactRIO data acquisition platform as well as MATLAB®/Simulink®.

Last but far from least, because our linear system is open architecture in design, its components and peripherals can be flexibly re-purposed and used to conduct research.

These are among the reasons our linear motion control products have been selected as teaching tools, research tools or both by such renowned and diverse engineering educators as Professor Nejat Olgac of the University of Connecticut; Professor and Chair (EECS) Stephen M. Williams of the Milwaukee School of Engineering; Professor Victor Nasini of the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology (ITBA); and Professor Mohammad Elahinia of the University of Toledo, to name a few.

Clearly, whatever level of controls course you're teaching, you'll be able to rely on the captivating, hands-on Quanser approach that truly suits your course and your students. To find out more about what you can teach with our linear controls lineup, click here.

Scaling Earthquakes - the Quanser Way!

Our Shake Table users are familiar with the earthquake scaling file called q_scale. This file has been around a long time, but it has been refined over the years. Special thanks to Dr. Eduardo Jausel from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his suggestions on the 'baseline' method and revised the source code.
So what does q_scale do exactly? Given an earthquake acceleration record, q_scale computes the position that the shake table must track in order to obtain the same accelerations - while keeping it below the maximum position specified. This enables an earthquake to be replayed on a bench top shake table and still obtain the same accelerations as recorded.

Take the Northridge earthquake for example. As with many other tremors, the recorded acceleration record can be downloaded from the PEER Ground Motion Database. At a certain measurement station, the peak acceleration and displacement of Northridge reached 0.60 g and 16.9 cm. The trajectory recorded at that station is shown in the two left-hand plots in the figure below under 'Recorded Acceleration' and 'Recorded Position'. 
When processed by q_scale, the acceleration amplitude is maintained (notice the peak acceleration is kept at 0.60 g) and the displacement is scaled-down to 3 cm (i.e. the specified maximum position). The position and acceleration records from q_scale are shown on the right-hand side in the above figure under  the Table Acceleration and Table/Scaled Position plots. Notice that in order to keep the same acceleration, the duration of the tremor is shrunk down from 40.0 sec down to 16.8 sec.
Using ground motions from actual earthquakes makes the lab more interesting. Motivation is key and students would rather see their building stand up to the Northridge earthquake then a pre-defined sinusoidal.
- Mitch Levis, Manager, Curriculum

Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Paradigm in Time Delayed Systems Research Is Validated with a Quanser Linear Workstation

For more than 10 years, Dr. Nejat Olgac from the University of Connecticut has focused his research on time delayed systems and specifically on a unique paradigm called the Cluster Treatment of Characteristic Roots (CTCR). Using key mathematical features of Linear Time Invariant Time Delayed Systems (LTI-TDS) first recognized under a CTCR paradigm, Dr. Olgac and his team can now identify stability islands of multiple-delay structures in the time-delay domain. Basically, if a linear time invariant time delayed system is contaminated with multiple, rationally independent delays, the researchers from the University of Connecticut can tell what delay composition will cause stability of the system.
Quanser's Linear Inverted Pendulum (IP02) system was utilized by Dr. Nejat Olgac of the University of Connecticut in his ongoing research on Time Delayed Systems. The IP02 system was used to validate a unique paradigm called the Cluster Treatment of Characteristic Roots. (CTCR).
To validate the CTCR Paradigm, Dr. Olgac used Quanser’s Linear Inverted Pendulum (IP02) system. With four patents already issued and a fifth one on the way, the research of Dr. Olgac and his team from ALARM Laboratory has a wide range of applications that extend from the machine tool industry to high speed milling and jet engine design.

At the 2012 American Controls Conference, Quanser hosted Dr. Olgac and his colleague Dr. Rudy Cepeda-Gomez, who presented their Inverted Pendulum Stabilization with Two-Delays and CTCR Paradigm research. Watch the video below to learn more.